Cardinal visits Wormwood Scrubs for Synod Conversation

Cardinal Vincent Nichols visiting Wormwood Scrubs Prison on 19th January 2022

Source: Pact, by Theresa Alessandro

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of Pact, this week ensured that the voices of prisoners are included in the synodal process. Pact, the Prison Advice and Care Trust, is the national Catholic prison charity.

In response to the Cardinal’s request, Pact facilitated his visit to HMP Wormwood Scrubs where he explained to a group of prisoners that he particularly wanted ‘to listen to those who can often be forgotten’.

Sitting together in the prison’s beautiful, large chapel, the men spoke with the Cardinal about the miracles of Jesus and the value of being able to spend time together in prayer, bible study and at Mass. They shared their struggles with additional isolation during necessary Covid restrictions, and their concerns about the effect of this on their family relationships, especially for their children. Some expressed fear and anxiety about finding a welcome in parish communities on their release.

Watching the men approach the Cardinal one by one to receive a simple wooden rosary and a blessing at the end of their time together was a deeply moving example of the ‘encounter’ Pope Francis calls us to.

Fr Chima Ibekwe has been the Catholic Chaplain at the prison for six years. He described how the work of the multi-faith chaplaincy has adapted during the pandemic when at times the men have been confined to their cells for 23 hours a day to try to prevent the spread of Covid. The chaplains have actually spent more time on the prison wings, making themselves personally available to the men and providing much-needed individual pastoral support.

In fact, when the Pact team had discussed with Acting Governor Dom Ceglowski the viability of the Cardinal’s visit, in giving his full support the Governor referred to its pastoral importance at this time. During the visit, the Governor, senior staff and the whole chaplaincy team joined the Cardinal for refreshments and a further opportunity for encounter. Father Chima said his ‘heart was touched’ by the interest in meeting the Cardinal from so many staff including those who were not people of faith.

In the Family Visitors’ Centre, which Pact designed and built and which can be found on the main road just outside the prison, Pact staff and volunteers explained their family support work to the Cardinal. The Cardinal also heard about Pact’s new FamilySpace initiative, which is open to families and children across London affected by the imprisonment of a close family member. Over Christmas, 40 children with a father in prison made use of the service, having fun with baking and other activities, whilst their mums accessed advice and support from Pact workers.

On behalf of HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Father Chima presented the Cardinal with a picture that included the words from Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’ – words which resonated so powerfully with those of the prisoners who had already said to Cardinal Nichols, ‘Thank you for coming here.’

Pact’s CEO, Andy Keen-Downs, said, ‘This was an important and moving occasion that went to the heart of Pact’s role as an agency of the church – supporting prisoners and their families to make a fresh start.’

Pact’s Faith in Action team is working to inform and encourage Catholic communities to better walk alongside prisoners, people with convictions and their families.

Find out more on the PACT website:

Or by contacting Theresa Alessandro at

Consider making a donation:

More about FamilySpace –

Christian Climate Action Campaigners Not Guilty of Obstruction

Fr Martin Newell, and Rev Sue Parfitt outside Inner London Crown Court after the verdict
Fr Martin Newell CP and Rev Sue Parfitt outside Inner London Crown Court after the verdict

Source: Independent Catholic News

Well-known Catholic activist Fr Martin Newell, a Passionist Priest currently based in the Diocese of Westminster, was among a group of three people cleared in a court case on 15th January 2022.

Three Christians, including an Anglican Priest and a Catholic Priest, who stopped a DLR train at Shadwell station in London in 2019 in protest at inaction on the climate emergency, were lawfully exercising their right to peaceful protest, a jury has found.

Rev Sue Parfitt, 79, Fr Martin Newell, 54, and Phil Kingston, 85, all members of Christian Climate Action, were found not guilty of obstructing trains or carriages on the railway under the malicious damages act. Sue and Martin stood on top of the train and Phil glued himself to the outside of it then prayed with other members of Christian Climate Action. They told the jury at Inner Court London that they took the action in desperation after trying everything else they could think of to draw attention to the climate emergency.

Speaking outside court after the verdict, Fr Martin Newell said that while he is delighted with the verdict he is still willing to take action that risks a prison sentence, adding: “I’m very grateful to the jury for acting on their conscience and hearing the issues that we wanted to raise in the original action two-and-a-half years ago. The climate emergency is the biggest issue facing the human race in our time and nothing is more important than dealing with that. Despite the words that many governments have said about it being urgent, they’re just not doing it.”

Zoë Blackler from Extinction Rebellion. said: “When a jury hears the truth about the escalating climate crisis, with the depth and seriousness they won’t get from the government or the media, they understand the urgent need to act. The real criminals here aren’t three committed Christians risking their liberty to sound the alarm on a threat of existential proportion, but a government failing to do what’s necessary to safeguard the future of the human race.”

All three defendants told the jury they were compelled by their faith to take action to protect God’s creation and prevent run-away climate change. Kingston also said he was taking action “for the future of my grandchildren and for the future of yours.”

During the trial the jury was presented with a set of facts, agreed on by both the defence and the prosecution, about the escalating climate crisis. These agreed facts included that: “Climate change is a clear and imminent threat to human civilisation. It has become increasingly widely recognised that immediate substantial action needs to be taken in order to stabilise the climate at a temperature in which we can avoid massive and widespread loss of life”.

This trial follows the acquittal by a jury in December of six people, also all members of Christian Climate and known as the DLR ‘Canaries’, who were charged with the same offence during an action at Canary Wharf station in April 2019.

In that case, as in this one, the jury was directed by the judge to decide whether a conviction was “necessary in a democratic society” or whether it would be a disproportionate interference in the defendants’ human rights. The ‘Canaries’ jury returned a unanimous Not Guilty verdict in less than an hour.

The issue of proportionality – arising from the Supreme Court’s recent Ziegler ruling – was also one of the defences used by the ‘Colston 4’ – who toppled a statue of a former slave trader – in their trial which concluded last week. The four were acquitted by a jury in Bristol after removing a public statue of the slave trader Edward Colston.


Christian Climate Action –

A blog published at the time of the action:

Peace Sunday 2022, 16th January

Pax Christi England and Wales (Catholic movement for Peace)

Each year on Peace Sunday we promote the Pope’s World Day of Peace message (available here); this year it is entitled: ‘Dialogue between generations, education and work: tools for building lasting peace’. Pope Francis highlights how education is fundamental for peace.

Peace Sunday is promoted with the support of the International Affairs Department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Pax Christi’s work is inspired by our Christian faith; but is open to all who support its values. We strive for a world where people can live peacefully through reconciliation, justice and non-violence.

Pax Christi depends very much on financial contributions we receive from Peace Sunday parish collections.  In the present circumstances we would be extremely grateful for anything you can give towards events and campaigns.

Show us our place in this world as
channels of your love for all the
creatures of this earth, for not one of
them is forgotten in your sight.

Enlighten those who possess power and
money, that they may love the common
good, advance the weak, and care for
this world in which we live.

The poor and the earth are crying out.
O LORD, seize us with your power and
light, help us to protect all life, to
prepare for a better future, for the
coming of your Kingdom of justice,
peace, love and beauty.

Pope Francis (adapted from Laudato Si’)

There will be an online reflection at 4pm on zoom, organised by Pax Christi members from Wrexham Diocese. Click here to register. All welcome, once registered you will receive an email with information on how to join.

Pax Christi Website

Next Monthly Prayer Vigil outside the Home Office – 17 January 2022, 12.30pm

The next monthly prayer vigil at the Home Office, Marsham Street, SW1, calling for Safe Passage for refugees and mourning those who have died trying to reach a place of safety, will take place on Monday, 17 January from 12.30-1.30pm.

In a leaflet for passers-by, the organisers, Westminster Justice and Peace and London Catholic Worker, say: 

‘We hold this prayer vigil every month in memory of all the men, women and children who have died in their attempt to reach Europe and the UK, as they fled from war, poverty and persecution. We are here because we believe in the human dignity and freedom of movement of all people and God’s commandment to love and welcome our brothers and sisters. We respect refugees as fellow children of God, not as aliens.

‘According to UNHCR there are currently 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 20 million who are refugees in other countries. The majority are hosted in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Ethiopia. Developing countries host 86% of the world’s refugee population.

‘Even though the UK is one of the world’s richest countries and its foreign interventions are arms trade help perpetuate the wars from which so many people are trying to escape, our government is refusing to welcome refugees. Instead, increasingly severe border controls are forcing refugees trying to reach Europe or the UK to take dangerous routes via the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and the English Channel, thus causing their deaths.

‘Meanwhile, in the UK, refugees fleeing violence and persecution are frequently detained in inhuman conditions, and more recently, housed in substandard accommodation such as decommissioned barracks. The process of claiming asylum can be highly arduous and frustrating and little support is provided, leaving people even more vulnerable and alienated. Many refugees and migrants living in the UK have no recourse to public funds, and are completely destitute.

‘We call on the UK government to create safe passage for refugees in recognition of their human dignity and the fact that asylum should be extended to them. We prayer that more and more people across Europe will stand up in solidarity with refugees and migrants. We pray for an end to the arms trade, militarism, and neo-colonialism that cause the conditions of poverty and conflict forcing millions of people to flee their homes.’

For more information or to join the group please contact Barbara Kentish, Migrant and Refugee Lead for Westminster Justice & Peace Commission:

Westminster Justice and Peace E-Bulletin January 2022

Dear Friends of Justice & Peace,


As 2022 begins, we wish you hope and encouragement to face all the challenges that the new year brings.

In the introduction to this month’s E-Bulletin Sr Elizabeth O’Donohoe reflects on her 20 years’ service with the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission on the occasion of her retirement. We thank her for all the grace and wisdom she has brought to the role. 

Sr Liz O’Donohoe (far right) receiving the Wilson-Hinkes Peace Prize award in 2018


Looking ahead, the month of January gives us the opportunity to reflect on Peace with Peace Sunday the centre of our focus on Sunday 16th January 2022. The Pope’s World Peace Message this year has as its central theme: “Education, work and dialogue between generations: tools for building lasting peace.” More inspiration can be found in The Tablet article: Catholics urged to mark Peace Sunday (  


Westminster Justice & Peace are working closely together with all the other Diocesan Agencies this year to implement the Westminster ‘Road to Carbon Neutrality Strategy’, especially Property Services, Education, Fundraising and Caritas. We also helping to co-ordinate a new network for the Southern Catholic Dioceses. The launch event is on Monday 10th January, 12.45-2.00pm and anyone with an interest in the climate and environment is invited to attend that. 

Booking with Eventbrite

There are many events of interest to be found in the Diary Dates of the E-Bulletin. Download a copy now!

Launch of the Southern Dioceses Environment Network – Monday 10th January 2022, 12.45pm

Everyone with a heart for the environment is welcome to join us for the first online meeting of a new network of Catholics in the South of England committed to the care of our common home.

Throughout 2021 a group of Catholics from London and the South-East met on Zoom every Monday lunchtime for prayer, sharing, discussion and mutual support on the Care of Creation in preparation for COP26 which took place in Glasgow, 1-12 November.

We are now moving into a new phase with a new name for 2022.

The Southern Dioceses Environment Network plans to meet monthly online on the second Monday of the month and also organise in-person events when possible during the year.

We will also be liaising with the Northern Dioceses Environment Group and other ecumenical, interfaith and civic groups as we all work together to animate action to tackle the climate crisis and address other environmental concerns in the run-up to COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, 7-18 November 2022 and beyond.

Participants to date include CAFOD staff and volunteers, Justice and Peace, Caritas, clergy, religious, parishioners, Laudato Si’ Animators, Journey to 2030, Christian Climate Action (XR), environmental charities, activists and interested individuals, young and old. You are most welcome to join us or attend as a one-off to find out more.

Register in advance with Eventbrite to receive the Zoom link:

Thank You to Maria Elena Arana

Maria Elena Arana

Westminster Justice and Peace would like to add our own note of thanks to Maria Elena Arana on the occasion of her retirement as CAFOD’s Campaign Coordinator. Maria Elena has been a good friend of the Diocese especially in her capacity as liaison with the National Justice and Peace Network, most recently in helping us to establish the Care of Creation London and South-East Weekly Briefings, which is shortly to re-launch as the Southern Dioceses Environment Network. We are grateful for her endless encouragement, support, advice and warm friendship. She will be greatly missed. We look forward to working with her successor and continuing to build on her legacy.

Source: Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News

Maria Elena Arana, Campaign Coordinator at CAFOD for 30 years, was given a warm and loving send-off today to mark her retirement before Christmas. Around 50 people attended a party at CAFOD’s London offices and another 50 by zoom. They included current and past staff, Justice and Peace workers, and representatives of groups she has engaged with over three decades.

Bishop Arnold of Salford, Chair of CAFOD trustees was the first speaker to thank Maria Elena for her dedication to CAFOD. “You’ve achieved a great deal and we are sad to see you go” he said. He spoke about her commitment to networking, particularly with the National Justice and Peace Network and the National Board of Catholic Women, nurturing their engagement with CAFOD.

Christine Allen, CAFOD’s Director highlighted Maria Elena’s “amazing energy and drive over those 30 years.” She described her as “a campaigning force to be reckoned with and a lovely person whose loving nature warms all of our hearts and embodies what CAFOD is about.” She singled out Maria Elena’s “tireless work in supporting parishes doing the Livesimply programme and now more and more schools are coming on board.” 110 awards have been given, with Maria Elena helping people “put their faith into practice.” Christine also expressed appreciation for Maria Elena’s hospitality to CAFOD partners and her “embodiment of solidarity, fostering so many people”. Christine concluded with, “thankyou for all you have been and what you have brought to CAFOD.”

Fr Rob Esdaile of Thames Ditton parish in Arundel and Brighton Diocese has been on the CAFOD campaign working group, chaired by Maria Elena, for nearly three decades, joining CAFOD’s mission around the time she did. He recalled her effectiveness as a campaigner – “she knows how to recruit people” – and when his parish earned the Livesimply award she delivered it herself on a Saturday in time for parishioners to see it that weekend. “She goes the extra mile” he added. He recalled his CAFOD teeshirts for various campaigns over the years which she organised – ‘Drop the Debt’, ‘Unearth Justice’ and ‘Just One World’. Fr Rob remembered her as an organiser of the ‘Hands around Birmingham’ in 1998, calling for jubilee debt cancellation, being a welcome face at the Emmanuel Centre for CAFOD events, and even putting MPs in rickshaws to meet constituents during a justice lobby at Westminster. Just a few weeks ago, on 6 November, she marched in Glasgow for climate justice, as he was supporting a similar march in London. And he spoke about her kindness – “gently keeping events running smoothly and keeping people involved, always being a great influencer, networker and coordinator”.

Julian Filochowski, CAFOD’s former Director, interviewed Maria Elena for the post of Campaign Coordinator in 1991. He felt that in CAFOD’s 60th anniversary year in 2022 – the diamond anniversary – CAFOD women who have been influential should be treasured like “an array of precious diamonds”. He said, “Maria Elena is one of the many fine, strong women who have shaped the CAFOD journey.” She “exudes hope, energy, positivity, and has been the face of CAFOD to J&P activists for many years”. He felt she has enriched CAFOD’s outreach work with her Mexican/American background. “She communicates passion and has always paid attention to people at the grassroots, jollying people along whether at liturgies or protests,” he said. Maria Elena “is always there, marshalling the pilgrim campaigners”. He thanked her for her commitment to the Archbishop Romero Trust, which he chairs. Also, for her work as a shop steward at CAFOD. “Pope Francis would recognise Maria Elena as the missionary disciple he wants us all to be. Viva Maria Elena!”

And Julian recognised the support of her family – husband Robert, children and grandchildren – who were with her at the event. He described them as a “political” family. In fact, she met her English husband Robert on a demonstration in front of the White House, saying herself that “Justice, Peace and Politics have always been part of our life”.

Barbara Crowther of the Fairtrade Foundation, who worked alongside Maria Elena at CAFOD in the 1990s, highlighted the joy that Maria Elena brought into CAFOD campaigning. “Her hospitality to partners and work colleagues underlined CAFOD as family, embracing life in all its fullness,” she said.

Among the presents given to Maria Elena was a collage of CAFOD Campaigns she has organised – ‘Eyes of the World’ was among the most recent.

And Maria Elena herself highlighted the campaigns that she first organised without computers or zoom. She recalled placing anti-landmine cards around churches, travelling to Cologne to highlight the ‘chains of debt’ when the G7 met there in 1999, and arranging for inspirational CAFOD partners to meet supporters throughout England and Wales. She singled out in particular Bishop Taban Paride, Bishop Emeritus of Torit in South Sudan; Fr Edu Garigues, former General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines; Lemlem Berha Tsegay from Ethiopia who came to Britain in 2012 to address meetings of CAFOD supporters about her work as a water engineer in irrigation and sewerage projects in drought-prone northern Ethiopia. Just weeks ago, Maria Elena was lobbying the UN Climate talks in Glasgow alongside Claudelice Silva dos Santos, a land defender from Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon, who has braved death threats to challenge illegal logging.

Maria Elena described CAFOD partners, staff and volunteers as “wonderful”, adding that “I will miss you all so much!” And she joked that her husband Robert has described himself as being “married to CAFOD”. She concluded with, “I’m sorry to leave such an inspiring organisation…. but I know you will all carry on.” Yes indeed, but she was left in no doubt of the importance of her legacy.


CAFOD’s latest campaigns –

NJPN – Speaking personally – Maria Elena Arana:

Prayer Vigil Outside the Home Office – Monday 13th December 12.30pm

London Catholic Worker and Westminster Justice and Peace invite you to join in our Prayer Vigil outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham St, London SW1P 4DF on Monday 13th December 2021, 12.30pm – 1.30pm 

On Wednesday 24th November, 27 people died when their boat capsized in the English Channel.  These numbers are shocking, but the people who died were not numbers. They were human beings, with a name, a face and a story.  We will read out their names  and the names of others who have died trying to reach the UK and Europe, thanks to the lack of any safe process.  We will pray for them, for their families and all of those who are still attempting this terrible journey. 

We will pray for those who profit from their desperation, and those who create the policies that give them little option but to embrace these dangers.  Since 1993, nearly 50,000 people have died either at sea or in tragic circumstances on their journeys, seeking safety in Europe. 

Bring your prayers, your pain and concern to the vigil, where we join in spirit with thousands who want to see an end to such suffering and tragedy.  

There will be prayers outside the Home Office on the third Monday of every month in 2022, that these deaths may not have been in vain, and serve instead to bring justice for people seeking sanctuary.  

Contacts for more information: Barbara Kentish, Westminster Justice & Peace Lead for Migrants and Refugees  and Johannes Maertens from London Catholic Worker   

Safe Passage – Sign the Petition

Join the charity Safe Passage in appealing to the Home Secretary for more safe and legal options to be made available for people seeking sanctuary in the UK from France.

To: Priti Patel, Home Secretary

On November 24th, at least 27 men, women and children tragically lost their lives seeking safety in the UK.

The appalling truth is that these deaths could – and should – have been prevented.

We need to make sure this tragedy is never repeated, so we’re calling on you and the Government to open safe routes now rather than repeat failed policies.

In the wake of this terrible tragedy, we need safe routes now.